August 05, 2022

High Park Policing Shenanigans

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been considerable outrage by Toronto’s cycling community over the ticketing and harassment by police officers in High Park. One cyclist got ticketed for going 26 km/h in a 20 km/h zone – something which rarely happens for drivers – while another got a $110 fine for rolling through a stop sign. There was even another case of a ticketing police officer driving into a cyclist who was reported to have earned $281,000 in 2021! If that doesn’t make your blood boil, Mayor John Tory claimed police do not deserve to be criticized for ticketing.

A Toronto Police officer ticketing a cyclist in High Park (via Dave Shellnut)

All of this has prompted Dave Shellnut (a.k.a. The Biking Lawyer) to organize a ride for safe streets next Thursday (6 PM) at the Bloor entrance of High Park.

While we can all agree on the urgency of this matter and the need for police to de-escalate their actions, this matter requires treading carefully. If you read some Facebook groups such as Roncy/Parkdale Friendly Neighbours, there have been a lot of complaints about people biking too fast and blasting through stop signs; many of which Councillor Gord Perks has already been made aware of. On the other hand, there is the question of where bike racers can train without having to bring their bike on a motor vehicle and emit unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions. Any action taken by the cycling community needs to be inclusive of everyone including families with children and the elderly, as opposed to being dominated by racers. Let’s save the racer part for the “High Park Takeover” from 6:00 to 8:00 AM when crowds are minimal.

Part of this situation can be solved through the High Park Movement Strategy. Despite some vocal opposition, there was a strong preference for a carfree High Park per a survey conducted during the July 27 virtual public meeting. After all, if New York City could make Central Park permanently carfree in 2018, why can’t we do the same here? If some form of road access is needed, Gil Penalosa revised his proposal for High Park calling for a 20 km/h speed limit (instead of 10 km/h) on the main loop from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM when crowds are greater, while allowing faster riding outside of those times. The proposal also called for speed limits on both Bloor Street and Parkside Drive adjacent to the park to be reduced to 30 km/h. Even in the pure carfree option, the 20 km/h limit should be used from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. The deadline to submit your feedback if Friday, August 19, so be sure to voice your support for a carfree High Park.

Making High Park carfree was the most popular item per this survey done during the July 27 meeting

Former mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat proposed introducing the Idaho Stop in which people who bike can treat stop signs as yields. Bicycles are momentum based mobility devices which require considerable energy to stop and start, so allowing people to roll through a stop sign can help reduce the energy needed to get back up to speed once past the intersection. The Idaho Stop does not mean people can bike full speed through stop signs. Since this kind of measure requires approval from Queen’s Park, Toronto’s cycling community should work with other advocates across Ontario to make this legal province-wide.

Even with the Idaho Stop, this Not Just Bikes video from January 2020 takes things one step further by calling for stop signs to be scrapped altogether. Instead, traffic calming and infrastructure changes are done to slow down traffic at intersections.

The ticketing of people biking is a wasteful use of police resources; especially considering most of the traffic fatalities and injuries happen on adjacent arterials such as Bloor and Parkside. Instead, let’s push for making High Park carfree – with reasonable limitations to reduce pedestrian-cyclist conflict – as well as legalizing the Idaho Stop provincewide to reduce the need for ticketing in the first place.

KSI data from the Toronto Police's Public Safety Data Portal

UPDATE 1 (2022/08/05): Cycle Toronto issued their own statement calling for an urgent meeting with Mayor John Tory and Police Chief James Ramer to address the police presence in High Park.

UPDATE 2 (2022/08/06): Siri Agrell - the main challenger to Gord Perks in Parkdale High Park - has also issued a statement proposing some practical solutions, while Chemi Lhamo has also tweeted a statement condemning the police presence.

UPDATE 3 (2022/08/12): Over 800 people made it out to the August 11 Ride for Safe Streets. Jun N wrote this excellent recap about the ride. Helmets off to Dave Shellnut and everyone who was able to attend.

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